Mad Men pitch for high-speed rail

Perhaps you are a fan of high speed rail? Or maybe you love A&E’s Mad Men television series. Or maybe both.

If you’re one of the above or just like well-done propaganda pitches, you’ve  got to watch two Mad Men discuss ways to sell the benefits of high-speed trains the to public. President Obama could learn a thing or two. And I hope the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio take heed.

This is brought to you by the folks from Funny or Die and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

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  • High speed rail to nowhere -- winning the future a wasted billion at a time.

  • In reply to darkwing:

    Nowhere? Last I heard, both St. Louis and Detroit were cities in the Midwest.

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    The last I heard, the Red Line was going to 130th and the Yellow Line to Old Orchard. That's the kind of nowhere he meant.

    Of course, why anyone would want to go to Detroit is another issue. One can take the South Shore to Gary to have that kind of experience.

  • In reply to jack:

    Unlike the Red and Yellow projects, there is actual construction ongoing on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. Which also serves Springfield, a place some might consider a destination and even arguably a city. :^)

    Yes, serves, present tense. There are five round-trips a day between Chicago, Bloomington-Normal Springfield, and St. Louis, and ridership on that line has been going up consistently since 2006 when the service went from three trains to five.

    I've been on these trains, taking them to Springfield and St. Louis. I have a car, but why drive I-55 with a parade of semis crowding me if I have a choice?! Even now, limited to 79 mph, these trains are very busy. The crowd that gets on and off at Bloomington for the university is particularly notable.

    And because the federal high-speed money isn't just going to Illinois, I will add that:

    1) Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC are not nowhere. The only existing high-speed service in the Americas has over 50% of the air-rail market Boston-NYC and NYC-Washington DC, which means a whole lot of people are choosing the train over flying.

    2) San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego are not nowhere either. California has built a nice train system for itself, although not yet high-speed, and the ridership there disproves the old saw that Californians gladly live in and for their cars. California is getting the bulk of the federal money for a real high-speed system.

    As to wasted billions, how many billions have been wasted widening expressways and other major highways over and over again only to see them congested again?! Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    The east and west coasts may have the passenger loads to support it.

    My remarks below were more directed to the remark in the main post "And I hope the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio take heed."

    The governor of Florida said that the recovery ratio would have been 1:6 and the state would have been on the hook for the rest of the 5/6ths.

    So, I suppose that before we get all gung ho about it in Illinois, we find out what the recovery ratio would be here. Given that the state is broke, Cullerton can't avoid suggesting ways to raise taxes, and the state apparently has not made good on its financial commitment to existing public transit, who is going to come up with that operating money?

    Maybe the consultants can answer that.

  • In reply to jack:

    "The east and west coasts may have the passenger loads to support it."

    Progress! Twenty years ago, the line from professional skeptics was that only the East Coast may possibly have the passenger loads to support it, but nowhere else in the U.S. Twenty years ago, the prospects of passenger rail on the West Coast would have been ridiculed by skeptics even more than Midwestern passenger rail, using the old "everyone in California loves their car and drives everywhere" meme. But the success of intercity trains in California and also on the Cascades route in Washington and Oregon meant that the goalposts had to be shifted or the skeptics would be laughed off the stage. Now, the line is that it'll work on the East and West Coast, but nowhere else in the U.S. Interesting.

    I think the passenger loads will support improved rail service in the Midwest too. The ridership on the existing trains has been rising for the last few years. Plenty of Midwesterns come to Chicago for business or pleasure: I see plenty of out-of-towners wandering along Michigan Avenue and State Street with multiple shopping bags. And many guidebooks and websites advise tourists to NOT rent a car or drive in Chicago unless they're going to a suburban destination. Many tourists and other visitors don't want to drive while they're here, and the ability to walk or take transit once in Chicago makes taking the train here that much more viable.

    "The governor of Florida said that the recovery ratio would have been 1:6 and the state would have been on the hook for the rest of the 5/6ths."

    The governor of Florida came to that conclusion by:

    1) ignoring the study commissioned by the Florida Dep't of Transportation, which found that the initial HSR route from Tampa to Orlando would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus in its first operating year, 2015-16. An earlier study in 2009 showed the line would see a surplus by 2021.

    2) choosing to believe information provided by the anti-rail libertarian think-tanks Reason Foundation and Heritage Foundation.

    Several companies -- consortia of US consultants and overseas HSR manufacturers and operators -- expressed serious interest in designing, building, maintaining, and operating the Florida system under a plan where the operator would get the federal money for construction, covering any construction costs overruns and operating losses itself, in exchange for pocketing any operating surpluses. The companies were willing to stake private money on the studies that the system would turn a surplus, and the state of Florida would not have paid a ha'penny for operations under this plan. But the Florida governor killed the HSR project before FDOT could open the bidding.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    Well, whatever Florida believes, do you have the consortium that is going to guaranty that Illinois is not on the hook for the operating deficit?

    After all, Daley is still waiting for the Chinese to build a Maglev to O'Hare. The original consultant's report said that a private company would have to be found just to build their concept of the Airport Express. The last I head, none had stepped up.

    As I said in the post below, tell us how much Illinois taxpayers are going to be on the hook.

  • In reply to jack:

    I don't know how much true HSR will cost in Illinois, because what Illinois is doing right now is getting the Chicago-St. Louis line up to 110mph. So far only a preliminary study has been done on true HSR for CHI-STL, commissioned by the Midwest HSR Association rather than the state. It's online.

    The state pays Amtrak to operate trains for it right now, trains that people are riding to places in and near Illinois, not nowhere. The appropriation has been about $26-28 million annually since 2007.

    Perhaps we're approaching this from fundamentally different directions, but I believe that:

    1) the need for government services and projects doesn't go away because some projects and services have been mismanaged. Chicago and its metropolitan area need improved transit regardless of what one thinks of the CTA, RTA, Governor Quinn, or the lame-duck Mayor Daley. Each proposed project should be evaluated on its own merits. To be blunt, waving around Daley's or CTA's perceived screwups as a hoodoo against spending any taxpayer money on any project doesn't impress everyone.

    2) the cost of doing HSR, or improved passenger rail in the meantime, doesn't exist in a vacuum but must be compared to the alternatives. Governments at all levels, local, state, and federal, incur costs right now for ALL the means that people use to travel from Chicago to St. Louis, vice versa, and the places inbetween, whether by highway, train, or airplane.

    How much has been spent on the highways, not just their initial construction but their frequent reconstruction and expansion? How much on the airports? What are the relative environmental impacts of highway, air, and rail travel? Do we as a society want development to occur around downtown train stations, or airports and highway exits? Focusing on how much rail will cost while not considering those questions as well is IMHO myopic.

    Again to be blunt, the highways have gotten hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars over the years, and the people and firms with a stake in road-building don't engage in this sort of navel-gazing and are rarely subjected to such scrutiny by others.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    "the need for government services and projects doesn't go away because some projects and services have been mismanaged."

    No, but the fact that most of the projects around here have been mismanaged doesn't mean that that we should just endorse another one blindly. Were you one that hopped onto the "Moving Beyond Congestion" and "Saving Chicagoland Transit" bandwagons? If so, what did they get us other than a tax increase?

    If prioritization were really an issue, I say fix CTA infrastructure first. I don't believe that you have shown sufficient benefit for this proposal.

    BTW, if you think I am a supporter of highway construction, read what Cullerton said today about his proposed cigarette tax increase. According to the Sun-Times, it was before the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association. I don't smoke either, but don't tell me he is working the crowd to get more money for HSR.

  • In reply to jack:

    No, I don't think you're a road-construction supporter.

    But I've seen too many instances of sincere supporters of one alternative to driving arguing that another alternative is a waste of money because it's arguably less worthy than their own preferred project or system. And I firmly believe that the road people laugh up their sleeves as they collect billions year after year while supporters of transit, rail, and bicycle/pedestrian paths fight each other over the scraps.

    As to Cullerton, yes his speech was to a road group, and yes the capital budget funds roads to the tune of $5.5 billion. But it also funds transit and rail projects of about $3.8 billion, including $300 million for CREATE and, yes, $400 million for HSR. If the road people can be made temporary allies in obtaining more money for transit and rail -- that is, if they support funding for the capital bill as a whole -- then who am I to complain? :^)

  • In reply to jbredin:

    Somehow, my link got messed up, but it was

  • In reply to jbredin:

    In what universe does Acela have a 50% market share? The actual figure is more like 20% -- so they're competitive with the Fung Wah bus, but that's about it.

  • In reply to jack:

    Honestly, there's usually several people catching the 97 or 54A with me when I go from the swift to Old Orchard. The mall is somewhat of a transportation hub for buses, especially PACE and Evanston. It's also walking distance to the Holocaust museum and the high school. Given the lack of residential areas, it's probably comparable to the Davis stop.

  • In reply to jack:

    Anyone should want to go to Detroit because there is a world-class art museum there and the citizens have been unfailingly kind every time I've been there. There's a very nice baseball park too, if you're into that kind of thing.

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    Yes, and they're both such vibrant, dynamic destinations that we need to spend $20B we don't have -- each -- on a brand-new way to get there.

  • In reply to darkwing:

    But HSR would give people in Detroit and St Louis a better way to get here and spend some money.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    First off, anyone with money to burn in Detroit and St. Louis is getting the hell out -- and heading south, not to Chicago. If we want their spending money, we should be talking about building lines to Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix, not other decaying rust belt cities in the Midwest.

    We already have airlines, highways, intercity buses, and existing passenger rail. How, exactly, would high-speed rail be "better" than any of the above? (Unless you're defining "better" as "maybe I can get a piece of other people's money".)

  • In reply to darkwing:

    I don't really have the time for the video, but I got into a discussion with my father about Fla. deciding to drop their line. Besides the issue of who would have to subsidize operating, and the interminable consultants, I pointed out that while there might be some economic stimulus to Fla. for having the track laying crew, the rest of the money would go to France, because they own the carbuilder, and even though the signal company is still in Rochester, N.Y., they own it too. I forgot to mention that someone was investigating whether the French state railroad should pay reparations for hauling Hitler's box cars around. My mother was in one of those, although not in France.

    Quinn again is blowing his horn that the Spanish car builder that was going to set up shop in Wisconsin should do so in Illinois, but it probably will do neither without a contract.

    "Buy America Act" requirements are about the only thing that keeps any of the money for transit equipment in this country. If there is any domestic rail car industry, I haven't heard of it.

    Finally, I had frequently wondered how a train could blow through Glenview, Northbrook, and Deerfield at 150 m.p.h. as part of the Wis. line. Turns out that they would not have; it was also reported that the Chicago to St. Louis one could not get up to speed until 80 miles from Chicago; i.e. somewhat south of Joliet. I also told my father that it would be stuck behind a freight. Given the move to axe CREATE funding, that may well be the case.

  • In reply to jack:

    The Buy America law applies to the federally-funded HSR projects as it does to transit projects. Talgo (the Spanish manufacturer you referred to) wasn't just "going to" open a plant in Wisconsin, it already did, and is in the midst of finishing intercity trainsets for Wisconsin and Oregon. Bombardier and Alstom have plants in the US to comply with Buy American for both transit and intercity cars, and Nippon Sharyo just agreed to open a plant here in Illinois (at Rochelle) to build the new Metra Electric cars.

    If we don't have a domestic passenger rail car industry, then by the same measure we don't have a domestic transit car industry either. To the best of my knowledge, all the U.S. plants building, or in many cases finishing, transit AND intercity rail cars are foreign-owned. (I honestly mean the best of my knowledge, and I welcome examples to the contrary.)

    If you're going to use the lack of American passenger-railcar manufacturers as a strike against intercity passenger rail, then it's a strike against rail transit too, and we all should be driving good old American automobiles. Just as soon as we can figure out whether the Ford made overseas or the Toyota made in the US is the American car.

    As to not going full high-speed within the metropolitan areas, that's true of existing HSR systems in much of the world. The Japanese built entirely new lines into their central cities, and the Chinese and Taiwanese systems follow that model IIRC. But the French TGV and the systems based on it built high-speed lines only outside the metro areas and enter the central cities on old conventional rail lines. You can reasonably argue that not going high-speed all the way to Union Station is a strike against the Illinois HSR plans -- the Japanese would agree with you. But someone else might point to the French, and to the expense of constructing new lines into downtown Chicago, and decide otherwise. Doctors differ and patients die. :^)

    As to CREATE, there have already been CREATE improvements on the metropolitan (Chicago-Joliet) portion of the Chicago-St. Louis line that have increased reliability. And the move to axe CREATE hasn't succeeded yet. To be blunt, you're probably one of the most pessimistic posters I've read on the 'net -- not just this forum -- but I believe that "don't count your chickens before they hatch" holds true whether the chickens are good or bad.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    When I mentioned rail car industry, I included rapid transit. Bombardier, which has the current CTA contract is apparently still Canadian vs. Alstom, which is France.

    If Talgo is already doing the work in Wisconsin, it probably wasn't going to move to Illinois, so Quinn, as usual, was talking out his butt. Of course, so do the NJ and Nev. governors.

    Heck, the bus industry isn't much better; it appears that ElDorado National and Gillig are the only domestic suppliers. As far as cars, Car and Driver just published a list of what is assembled in North America and the percentage of US and Canadian content, and yes, I do have a Honda made in Marysville.

    Yes, I am pessimistic, but with Cullerton in my pocket, and nearly everything transitwise having turned to garbage in the past 7 years or so in the Chicago area (including for you internationalists, Hungarian buses), I am not getting on any bandwagon until someone demonstrates the costs and benefits. You have mentioned slim benefits for this region, and have not stated what are the costs going to be to Illinois taxpayers.

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